Encyclopedia Sabrina (Norma Ann Sykes)

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Diary of a Dream Girl

TV Mirror

17 December 1955

Vol 3 Number 25

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Sabrina dress fitting

As she is fitted for another TV appearance, Sabrina's thoughts are far way. Is she pondering her sudden rise to fame?

"SABRINA" is my dream girl," said Arthur Askey the other day. "She keeps on cropping up wherever I go." He also called her his "Frankenstein Monsteress." Meanwhile, for Sabrina the days rush by. Like this...

Friday — it's 1.0 a.m.: The height of the excitement at a big ball given for Disabled Ex-Servicemen in Cumberland. The great hall is packed with over two thousand dancers.
I have a special reason for supporting ex-service charities. My Dad was a Regular soldier. Royal Artillery. His ear-drums were shattered by gunfire, and he bravely managed to get out of France six weeks after Dunkirk fell. People never know he is deaf, because he lip-reads perfectly.

There is not a hint of past anxieties at this big function in Cumberland, and in this happy throng I judge a fashion contest before the microphone, sign autograph books until my wrist aches, and though I am really not a bit tired, I turn in at—

3.0 a.m. because, as Chris Barnett, my publicity man, reminds me, I have to be on that London train in a few hours.

Sabrina with Chris, publicity man

A busy days leaves time only for a hurried snack with Chris Barnett, her publicity man.

12.30: Marylebone. If I were just Norma Ann Sykes, I could take a Tube home, like thousands of other Londoners (if a Stockport girl is allowed to regard herself as a Londoner by adoption!) ... but now that Norma Ann Sykes has become Sabrina, Tubes are out, and so are buses, tables in ordinary cafes, walking round department stores ... I'm recognised wherever I go. "Ok, it's Sabrina! When's the new TV series, Sabrina? Do you REALLY talk? ..." So it has to be a taxi home.

1.0: Snack lunch with Mum and Dad, with the phone off the hook so we get a few minutes' peace. "It has never stopped ringing," says mother. Check dozens of messages. Time for my first studio call tomorrow, for final shots of The Ramsbottoms Ride Again .

2.40: A publisher calls for a discussion with Chris Barnett, with our mutual friend Roger, and, of course, with Mum and Dad whose advice I take on everything, on the subject of the new Sabrina in 3-D photo books. I have posed for these 3-D art illustrations in the Oliver Messel suite at a Park Lane hotel. Not just "pin-ups," but pictures we all hope really have glamour—and artistic value.

2.55: Must dash. Shall be late for the TV session, in the ITV headquarters in Kingsway. Bump into produceer Bill Ward in the corridors—the producer to whom I owe so much for my first TV break.

Sabrina singing lesson

Sabrina sings! But Maestro Mario, her music teacher, is very strict about wrong notes. Sabrina must sing - in tune.

People who think I had an easy ride to television fame, without even speaking words of one syllable, perhaps do not know of the unhappy period in my life, soon after we had moved from Stockport to Blackpool, when I was about eleven.

A keen swimmer, I contracted infantile paralysis in the swimming pool, was in and out of hospital for four years, and the doctors thought I might lose my right leg. In fact that leg was still in plaster when, at the age of fifteen, I entered for a local charm contest.

Illness made me fear I never would succeed in Show Business, and it was only after many anxious times, working at all sorts of menial jobs, that I managed to get an agent interested in me.

My friend Roger was very largely responsible for the fact that I was included in a group of girls sent to the BBC when Bill Ward phoned saying: "I'm putting on a new TV show; send me twelve pretty girls so that I can choose one for a gimmick . . ."

Quite unexpectedly I was the girl chosen, and we thought it would be for only one show. There was no contract, no guarantee.

Of course, it was Arthur Askey who helped the gag to develop, and who christened me after "Sabrina fair,'' in Milton's Comus.

As I enter the rehearsal studio to take part in a script-reading with Arthur and others of the new TV series, running through my mind is mother's injunction: "Whatever you do. Norma, don't forget the meat for Shane ..." Shane is our fifteen-months-old Alsatian.

4.15: You wouldn't think this had much to do with TV if you could see us all sitting around the producer's desk, reading our scripts. More like a local Council welfare meeting! Yet it is from these first script-readings that a really funny TV series is born.

4.30: Now, my shopping. From Kingsway to Oxford Street, then along to Berwick Market where I sometimes go bargain-hunting for dress-lengths. On the stalls there are some wonderful bargains. Mother makes most of my dresses, and in Soho I often get a length suitable for an evening gown for only three or four pounds.

Sabrina shopping

"Nice bit o' material lady," Bargain-hunting in London's Berwick Market, Sabrina sees this dress-length as a glamorous TV gown. Passer-by wonders where she's seen the beautiful blonde before.

5.0: Better stop for tea. Oh, mustn't forget Shane's meat, at a little shop around the corner. Then, at—

Sabrina and dog Shane

VIP access

[Sabrina and Shane]

5.30: Arrive at the studio of Mr. Hutt, the cartoonist and portrait painter, who loves drawing me, and who has a portrait on hand of me for the Royal Academy.

Mr. Hutt peers over his glasses at me, then concentrates on the board on his easel.

6.0: Sitting finished, dash out into the West End crowds, and almost bowl over John Baker, a photographer for whom I used to do some modelling, and whom I hold in warmest regard because it was John who suggested my career in Show Business, and who first introduced me to an agent.

6.25: Mum has the tea brewing, and off we go for a dress session. Upstairs I suppose I have about thirty-dresses, but when a girl is on TV and doing so many 'PAs' (personal appearances) it is often a case of three different dresses in a single day.

So mother is always working on something new for me. No pattern required. I design the gown in the main outline, and mother thinks up the technicalities.

It was mother who made the first gown in which I appeared on TV—the one that quite unwittingly began the fuss. (Previously my bust-line had not been a subject of newspaper headlines!)

I had worn just a sweater on the day I was auditioned, and it was not until I appeared at the dress rehearsal that Arthur Askey realised he had created what he now calls his "Frankenstein monsteress" !

This first appearance was on the BBC, of course, and there was some panic while people rushed around to find a piece of lace which official ruling insisted must be inserted!

Sabrinalistens to her voice

The girl who was "dumb" on TV listens to the playback of her voice on the tape recorder.

7.30: Quick bath, tidy my hair, and change for the evening show.

Fortunately for me, my hair is no bother. No pin-curls for me. I need to wash it only every other day, as it is very fine, and soon becomes unmanageable if washed every night.

I am sometimes asked what the colour really is, and I can only reply: "Golden blonde/' Certainly not platinum. There is no silver tint.

8.0: I am now wearing the new nylon net, the gown which, of all the dozens mother has made, is my favourite. It has layers and layers of net, starting a deep fuchsia colour, graduating to pink, then to silver and white. Mother made it topless, but later we decided to give it a halter neck.

8.45: Finds me curled up in the lounge of a friend's house, watching boxing on TV! We have time to see the first twenty minutes of a variety show, too, before going on to the Mayfair hotel where tonight 1 am making a "PA" and judging another fashion contest.

Whose arm am I leaning on? No names, no pack drill, as Dad always says! I have no regular boy friend. My escort sees me safely through the crowded, gay evening, and I am back home at—

12.50: "You're early tonight, dear!" says my understanding mother. I run upstairs and slip the nylon net gown off, and put on a quilted, midnight-blue housecoat. Then down for a final night chat with mum and dad. Warm milk drink at the fireside. Grab the morning and evening papers, which so far I haven't had time to read. Which page do I turn to first? Woman's Page? Sport? The TV Critic's column? None of these ...

I thumb the papers to see what the stars foretell for tomorrow. Superstitious? Not a bit of it. But, well, one just likes to know. After all, the stars might lie right! I'm a Taurus subject. 19th May.

And now to bed. After all, it is twenty-four hours since this diary opened.

Sabrina with mum and dad

Enjoying a quiet evening at home, Sabrina discusses a new gown with her mother who makes many of her dresses. Dad looks sad because his pools have failed to come up again.

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